Monday, January 9, 2012

Better Bebek: A Taste of Balinese Duck

Bebek Pelalah at Bebek Bengil, Nusa Dua

 Ever since I first learned to cook the perfect seared duck breast at cooking school, I’ve been hooked.  Skin scored in a cross hatch, cooked low and slow until the fat renders, the skin dark caramel and crisp, and the breast the dusty rose of medium rare.  Sliced thin on a diagonal with little more than maybe a slick of jus or vinegar spiked gastrique, it is a hard dish to improve upon. 

At least, it seemed hard to improve upon until I tasted my first Balinese duck.

In the last nine days in Bali I have eaten duck at no fewer than five meals, each occasion no less interesting and often more delicious than the last. 

It helps to start with an excellent product.  Balinese duck, or bebek, is smaller than what we are used to finding in the West with a noticeably lower fat layer- presumably ducks don’t need so much insulation in tropical climes- and an intensely meaty flavor that is rich without tasting gamey.

The restaurant turning out one of the best examples of this local specialty and winner for most creative restaurant name: Bebek Bengil.  The translation, Dirty Duck, has no relation to the sanitation at the restaurant that, at the Nusa Dua location, was a bright, airy pavilion with comfortable low tables and piles of cushions-  ideal for eating cross-legged on the floor while watching the surf. 

Bebek "Betutu" at Ary's Warung, Ubud
Bebek Bengil deep fries its ducks, sold by the half, and serves them with an array of spicy sambal and rice.  But it was the Bebek Pelalah that blew me away on a later visit.  Fried like its plain counterpart, this half duck comes artfully displayed, breast and wing stacked up against the leg portion, and covered in a traditional Balinese sauce of stewed tomatoes, chilies, and spices.  It has all the textural appeal of the plain fried duck with a deep and nuanced sauce so addictive I continued to lick the bones long after the last shreds of duck meat had disappeared.   

Fried is not the only technique the Balinese employ in preparing duck.  At Ary’s Warung in Ubud, duck leg and breast had been long simmered in a broth redolent of the local spices- nutmeg, cloves, chilies, black pepper- in an homage to the island’s famous whole steamed duck betutu.  The textural affect was the opposite of the fried duck- all the flavor of the other in the meat but so tender it melted on the tongue. 

The strange thing I realize now, that for all the duck I’ve eaten this trip, I have yet to see one running wild.  Perhaps the heavy rains of the past week have kept them away from the terraced rice paddies where I’m told they like to hang out. Wherever they are, I am sure they’re enjoying the idyllic free-range life because who, man or beast, could not live well in paradise?  And judging by the consistently tasty results, these Balinese ducks have a very good, very delicious life, all the way to the end.

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

No comments:

Post a Comment